David Davis, a Foreign Office minister, told Parliament that Britain would destroy 44 per cent of the Army's stockpile immediately. Should an international ban be agreed, Britain would renounce all anti-personnel mines and destroy them. But otherwise the remaining 46 percent will be replaced with new mines.
The announcement coincides with the start of the UN Weapons Convention review Conference in Geneva, but was criticised by the Opposition and international organisations, including the Red Cross, as it falls short of an immediate, unilateral gesture to destroy all of Britain's anti-personnel mines and renounce them as a weapon of war. Australia and Germany recently renounced anti-personnel mines completely.
Dr David Clark, Labour's defence spokesman, said: "The Government claims it will work for a world- wide ban on landmines. The reality is that it will buy more mines and modernise its stocks."
A report, Landmines - an unacceptable weapon, written by the Labour MP Ann Clwyd, was released yesterday to coincide with the Government's announcement. She said: "Today's much-hyped announce- ment conceals the fact they are not proposing a unilateral ban on anti-personnel mines."
Britain has not exportedmines since 1982 but still holds tens of thousands in case they are needed for use. These are all "dumb" mines, which remain dangerous until cleared."Smart" mines self-destruct after a while, so they do not endanger people years after a conflict has ended. Britain has until now resisted demands for a total ban on the grounds that it would not work, as the nations exporting most deadly small mines - China, India and Pakistan - are unlikely to take any notice. Russia has declared a three-year moratorium on exporting "dumb" mines.
Mr Davis said the main concern was not the use of mines by professional armies, but in civil wars, such as those in Cambodia, Somalia and Bosnia, where they lie around and kill and maim thousands of people. There are an estimated 100 million small mines around the world, which maim or kill about 20,000 people a year.
Until now, British policy has been that "smart mines" will be more effective in reducing casualties. International organisations campaigning for a total ban argue that self-destructing mines are not reliable.Reuse content